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Monday, 30 August 2021
Page: 20

Senator RICE (VictoriaDeputy Australian Greens Whip) (12:13): [by video link] The Greens have brought on this bill, the Defence Amendment (Parliamentary Approval of Overseas Service) Bill 2020, today, while the situation in Afghanistan is raw and tragic—while, in Kabul, we have seen days of chaos on the ground. While some very fortunate people have been able to be flown to safety—and we are grateful that that has been the case—we mourn the loss of life that has occurred and will occur. As the final US troops withdraw tomorrow, we've got people being killed on the ground by the Taliban and by terrorist bombings of ISIS-K and by US drone strikes. We have brought on this bill today because it's important—while we are reflecting on this tragedy and while it is raw—to ask ourselves: could we, should we, have done something differently so that we wouldn't have ended up as we have today? If we had had parliamentary oversight of sending Australians off to war as we did 20 years ago, would we have made a different decision?

I've listened to the debate this morning, and the arguments that have been put forward against this basically seem to boil down to three things. One is that there's a security justification: we can't have the parliamentary debate because we would have to share information that the public can't know—that would be problematic to share. Frankly, I don't buy this at all. If you are making the serious decision to send Australians off to war then you need to be able to justify it to the public to say: 'Australians are going to die. People are dying. We are going to be at war.' There needs to be the ability to justify that to the public in no uncertain terms.

The second reason seemed to be that if under the emergency provisions that are in this legislation a decision were made to send troops off to war and then the parliament decided against that later on we'd be in a tricky situation to withdraw. I don't buy that either, because if parliament made that decision it would mean that there was a huge amount of controversy over that decision and we would have had troops going off to war very uncertain as to whether it was an appropriate war to be part of.

Thirdly, in Senator Abetz's contribution he was basically saying that we need to have the ability, the nimbleness, to go off to war. Again, this bill contains emergency provisions that give the executive the ability to make that decision, if indeed that is an appropriate decision to make.

I think it's important to be discussing this today and reflecting upon those two decades in Afghanistan. It has been two decades since we joined the United States. The scenes across Afghanistan show the fundamental failures of the approach that we had in making that decision. When Australia first joined the US in invading Afghanistan then Prime Minister John Howard stated:

We should be clear about our aims in this operation. The immediate goal is to seek out and destroy al Qaeda and ensure that Afghanistan can never again serve as a base from which terrorists can operate.

Twenty years on it seems that the words of my former colleague Scott Ludlam were all too prescient. In 2011 he said:

The mission fulfilled the political aim of showing solidarity with United States, but if you measure progress against the goal of stabilising a country and a region, then the mission has failed.

And that's even more starkly the case now a decade on.

The evidence is very strong that the last 20 years have made the world less safe, that there is more terrorism, that al-Qaeda is stronger. You cannot invade your way to peace. You cannot bomb your way to justice. As Nathan Sales, a former US state department coordinator for counterterrorism, has said recently:

… the terrorism risk to the United States is going to get dramatically worse … it is virtually certain that al-Qaeda will reestablish a safe haven in Afghanistan and use it to plot terrorism against the United States and others.

Tragically for too many years Afghanistan has been a graveyard for Afghans all too often killed by white invaders, and that's the sad reality of the situation. Rather than being a graveyard for empires, it has been a graveyard for Afghans. Ministers who wanted to be there for the photo-ops with the international handshakes and fighter jets—it's not the ministers who order the invasions that dig the graves, particularly for the thousands of civilians who have been killed.

Our support for the US invasion has also tarnished our approach to whistleblowers. We have spoken out for a long time in support of Julian Assange, who has been unjustly jailed for making public the secrets of war and war crimes in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Fundamentally, we reiterate our call for Australia to rethink our relationship with the US. The presidency of Donald Trump highlighted the dangers and the risks to Australia of outsourcing our decision-making to another country with a history of military follies.

Here inside Australia we must rethink our asylum seeker policies as well. We're now providing airlifts to some from Afghanistan, but we've spent decades locking up those who sought to come to Australia, often from Afghanistan. It's worth remembering that those on board the Tampa 20 years ago were Afghan asylum seekers fleeing the Taliban. That contrast between our invasion and our treatment of those seeking asylum from Afghanistan highlights the fundamental contradictions of Australia's approach. It was a decision made by white ministers to invade Afghanistan, to arrogantly and recklessly pretend that we could create peace through war and to lock people up when they tried to flee to Australia.

We think that a parliamentary debate, as is outlined in this bill, would have led to important scrutiny and accountability. It's sorely lacking and desperately needed. It's too late for the people of Afghanistan on the ground that we are having this debate today, but we must make sure that we do not make the same mistakes again. Part of ensuring this is this bill, which would make it far more difficult to make instant decisions to send Australians off to war. Thank you.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator O'Neill ): It being 12.20, the time allocated for the debate has expired.